Conversation Skills in Customer Interactions

“Ideal conversation must be an exchange of thought, and not, as many of those who worry most about their shortcomings believe, an eloquent exhibition of wit or oratory” – Emily Post

We know that customer interactions can be stressful given that there is always some issue or query that is wanting. These issues get compounded when the customer interfacing teams lack the very important conversation skills. Customers would be willing to do business with a company when they know that the products and service of the company will solve some business problems for them and the company as a whole makes them feel good and important. Of course, when a potential customer connects they have no way to understand whether the products will help but if the customer service person is able to put them at ease and make them feel comfortable they would more willing to think positively about the company. This is where conversation skills can save the day and attract more business for the company. From experience as customers, we know that we are more inclined to re-enter a shop or store where the staff is friendly and are able to make us feel welcome and valued – this is nothing but heightened conversation skills.

As discussed previously, emotional reasons for buying top the list of reasons that people become customers – when a person feels good during an interaction, they are more likely to interact again. The same is the case with customers – it is the responsibility of the customer interfacing teams to carry out smooth and intelligent conversations with customers such that they can build a rapport and ensure that their customers continue to do business with them and also recommend the ‘friendly and approachable’ service to others. The good part of conversation skills is that they can be learned without much trouble and as such the continuous polishing of these skills for customer service teams must be an inseparable part of training and coaching.

In normal situations, conversation translates to a dialogue – that is two-way. A conversation can never be successful if it is not a give and take. This meaning of conversation takes on an even more critical role when interacting with customers. They expect to be listened to completely and will be amenable to listening post understanding that they have been heard. Conversation skills therefore are a combination of listening and speaking well. Only after actively listening to the customer will it become possible to say the right things and offer the best solutions. Conveying the solutions and the understanding of the customer’s problem is the second part – and both parts make up conversation skills.

When dealing with customers, it is crucial to let them know that you are interested in listening to them and asking for their opinion.  For the customer service staff good conversation skills begin with being able to smile when speaking with a customer either face to face or over the phone. This signals their intent of providing service that the customer expects. Smiling and being polite helps to build an almost instant rapport with customers and even if a solution is not immediately possible, they are more willing to afford the company time to respond and come back to them with solutions.

It is only through conversation that the customer service staff can convey empathy. There are times when the customer could have a problem due to their own fault, but it is vital that the customer service staff remain understanding and empathetic of the situation. Enhanced customer service skills can reduce the number of complaints and frustrating situations that could otherwise be commonplace.

The other important part of conversation skills that could either make or break the relationship with customers is engaging in talk or using words that could be considered controversial or provocative. Even when indulging in ‘small talk’ with customers, it is always advisable to stick to topics that would be considered pleasant and neutral. Conversation skills means having the intelligence to steer clear of any topic or words that could breakdown the communication. Even if the customer seems to be hinting or touching upon such topics, customer service staff would be well advised to steer the conversation in another direction – conversation skills at their best.

As mentioned, conversing can only happen with listening first. The response cannot be appropriate or suitable if you have not first attentively listened to what the customer was saying. Paying close attention to what the customer expresses is half the battle won – displays great conversation skills and lends some measure of confidence to the customer that the company can be trusted and depended upon.  Continuously upgrading the conversation skills of the customer service staff will help to build emotional connections with customers, know them better and therefore provide better levels of service to customers, which essentially is the main point of differentiation between the many companies that now exist.

Conversation skills in customer interactions are about being able to share – give and receive – information that is most relevant and in the most appropriate manner. Unless the customer can find use of the information being given to them the conversation would be a waste and with time customers begin to communicate and interact less and eventually leave. Not only must the information be relevant, it must be presented in a manner that is interesting and engaging. Using the customer’s name in the conversation makes them feel important – it may seem like a very insignificant thing but a person’s name is by far one of the most important features of a person and using it correctly can provide a very impression of the company and its representatives.

When customer service staff is equipped with great service and conversation skills they would be able to display genuine interest in their customers. With so much technology and digitization, the human touch still rates among the top for customers. This translates to remembering personal details, important occasions and accomplishments of your customers and also mentioning these during the course of conversations as and when the opportunity presents itself.

Companies would like their customer facing staff to create positive impressions for them before the customers, but very often neglect the very basics of communication skills. There is training for accents, increasing product knowledge, learning the latest technology, managing social media and other such ‘hard core’ stuff. It is crucial to remember that none of these would be effective if the customer facing representatives fall short while conversing effectively with customers. When we mention customer facing staff, we are talking about employees working in – customer service, sales, marketing and any other staff members that would have opportunity to deal directly with customers. These employees form the face and image of the company and how they behave and their proficiency in conversing will decide what impression customers have of the company – the difference between success and failure.

The customers of today cannot be satisfied with average – anything. They want the best if companies expect them to become loyal, remain profitable and attract more business for the company. Being able to converse easily and effectively may not be easy for some and especially in a stressful and highly strung department like customer service, the chances of conversation breakdowns can be extremely high if conversation skills among other skills are not given their due importance.

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